The Conception of The Blessed Virgin Mary, readings: Isaiah 49:1b-3; Psalm 139:1-12; Luke 1:34-36
Most of the thoughts that I am sharing today originate from my friend and colleague Tim Perry’s book Mary for Evangelicals. Perry’s book traces the history of the church’s understanding of Mary from the earliest New Testament writings (Paul) up until today. These thoughts come from pages 71-73.
As I was reading through his section on Mary in Luke (I have to preach on that this coming Sunday), I was particularly struck by his discussion of Mary’s declaration that she is the Lord’s servant as we have it in today’s reading. As Perry points out, it is more proper to use the word slave rather than servant. However, this term is not a term of subjection, at least not so in terms of Mary’s relationships with the people in her life, particularly Joseph, but reflects instead an acknowledgement that she has been chosen by God and it is God’s action upon her life that she is submitting to. This choice is not a reflection of any special qualities that Mary possesses, only her willingness to say yes. Not only that, but it is only in submission to God that true freedom exists.
One reason, Perry suggests, that we should pay close attention to the use of the word slave, is that it is a word that is applied in general terms to all believers at several points in the New Testament narrative. Mary’s assent is the same assent that all believers are required to give to God.
In addition to this, as Perry points out, this statement leaves Mary in the company of many women throughout the tradition who have been God’s slaves and in so being have been able to act in ways outside of what would be considered the norm in their society. Women such as Deborah, Jael and Esther to name only three.
Yet, this does not lift Mary out of her circumstances. She is still a betrothed young girl, facing a society who considers such a thing unacceptable. She will still have to face Joseph with the news of baby that is not his. Yet she will be able to do so on her own terms, because knowing that her life belongs to God, it cannot and does not belong to anyone else.
During Advent we are called especially to decide whether or not we are willing to be God’s slaves. Much like Mary, it doesn’t rely on any special characteristics we possess, but only on our willingness to say, “Here am I, the slave of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”